Of Truth and the Shortest Month | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Of Truth and the Shortest Month

I admit it: I've never been Black History Month's biggest fan. Let me put that another way: I don't like how media tend to treat Black History Month. Too often, it is a vehicle for selling ads on a special page to commemorate black history, usually with predictable images or talk of little-lady Rosa Parks suddenly getting tired and refusing to get up out of her seat. (No. She was a trained activist; the historic moment was planned.)

Even worse, many publications around the United States use February as the time to load diverse coverage into one month, or at least to provide some coverage of African Americans that doesn't involve crime, music or sports. As much as I know and respect why Carter Woodson started this tradition, it is too often an excuse for not doing truly diverse, educational coverage the rest of the year.

Black History Month also provides cover for educational institutions to give a cursory nod to civil-rights icons without teaching the hard stuff that we all need to know. For instance: that Mississippi had the most lynchings. That we had horrendous "Black Codes" after slavery and reconstruction officially ended. That white citizens in Mississippi voted in the 1960s to close the public schools rather than integrate them. That a state-funded spy agency, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, not only gathered "intelligence" on blacks who "stepped out of line" and the white "activists" who helped them, but reported on travesties like a white gas station owner in Neshoba County allowing a black man to use his station bathroom.

Why care about bathrooms? To scare decent white people into going along with maintaining segregation at all costs. And if they didn't, the upstanding members of the Citizens Councils--organized to prevent integration--would lead boycotts of their businesses, or worse. If all else failed, the Citizens Council and the Sovereignty Commission would join forces to get "intelligence" (like the license plate number of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner) out to local law enforcement, who were either Klan members or buddies with them. Then came the murders, harassment, even efforts to starve families into submission (in Greenwood, they cut off food assistance to poor blacks who tried to register to vote).

No, this history isn't comfortable, and it's not just "black history." It is all of our history, and we should all know it inside and out to prevent repeats of it (not so hard to believe since the last presidential campaign) and so that we all can understand why problems exist and, thus, how to cure them at their roots.

If you don't know, for instance, about the "red-lining" (Google it) and blatant economic discrimination by institutions including banks, landlords, health-care agencies, doctors and lending agencies until the early 1990s, you cannot comprehend why an entire race of people have had such a difficult time obtaining wealth, land, credit and connections that help level the playing field. If you do not know about the brutal criminal acts committed by whites against blacks in order to keep Jim Crow alive--often leaving dead men's privates stuffed in their mouths in lynchings documented on postcards with partying white adults and children smiling and pointing--you cannot understand the cycle of despair and violence in which American society has forced several generations of black men.

If you do not know that thousands of families (and their resources) fled the Jackson Public Schools when the U.S. Supreme Court forced us to integrate in late 1969, you probably don't get the need for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or why public schools are struggling. You sure won't get that a disaster that took generations to create is going to take serious effort on our part to reverse. It sure as hell is going to take knowledge.

Of course, I write this in times that prove the point. Our governor, who is a serious candidate for president, recently downplayed the horrible Citizens Council and before that, made comments that his generation wasn't part of all the mess back then. (Right.) A state representative from Brandon, Rep. John Moore, wants to repeal legislation (ironically signed by the governor) to bring actual civil-rights education to our public schools. I hate to imagine what is, and isn't, being taught in many of the private academies, originally set up as "segregation academies." Really terrifying, there are efforts around the country by Tea Party groups to simply erase slavery and black oppression from our history books.

Then there's Rep. Mark Duvall, a Mantachie Democrat, trying to get the Legislature to force back Colonel Reb and the "From Dixie With Love" fight song to Ole Miss.

It is entirely possible, even probable, that Duvall and Moore just don't know any better. They may have been raised in households and schools where people just don't talk about "all that." Perhaps they come from the mentality that uncomfortable history isn't worth talking about; besides, "WE didn't do it." And so on.

It is exactly this level of ignorance--or intentional efforts to get the ignorant vote--that proves how desperately we need to get acquainted with our recent history. No, most of us did not go to Citizens Council meetings or send out postcards with a lynched man hanging from a tree or pour sugar on protesters' heads at the old Woolworth, but all of us are hurt by the legacy of this lunacy. The cycle of crime endangers us; the division pushed by politicians makes us vote against our own interests because we're scared of "them"; the shame of what our people did to our neighbors haunts us and hurts our state's economy.

One woman even stated adamantly to me on Facebook that the slavery of "entitlements" was worse for blacks than the slave trade (apparently not understanding where or when "entitlements" came about in the U.S.)

I've said it before: People don't know what they don't know. And when they've been told all their lives that black people (or, conversely, white people) are all violent, greedy, lazy, whatever, they will sometimes believe stereotypes without bothering to consider history.

Here's the good news, though: People who face the truth and embrace the lessons of history find a brave new world of love and understanding. When you find the courage to show you care about our shared, difficult history, and to listen and learn, suddenly the shame disappears. You form new relationships, and you know you're part of the solution.

The truth really will set you free. Try it.

Previous Comments

ID
161903
Comment

Standing ovation, DLadd!

Author
Queen601
Date
2011-02-03T08:49:58-06:00
ID
161905
Comment

Thank you, your highness! ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-02-03T10:33:29-06:00
ID
161929
Comment

Once again Donna, you are on point. Interestingly enough, Galloway UMC is hosting a series of classes concerning acknowledging and responding to White Privilege. It takes place on Sunday Mornings (9:45) in recpetion Hall A at Galloway. Come and share with us.

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2011-02-04T15:57:18-06:00
ID
161930
Comment

That's wonderful, Blackwatch. When I do diversity workshops, white privilege is a key component. I started to include more about it here, but there wasn't space. I may do an entire column based on the idea of white privilege and the blindness of the dominant culture (which, of course, is what this one is about, too). It's so sad to watch people caught in the trap of defensiveness, which creates fear and hate. It must be a special kind of hell to live that way and, I suspect, it affects all parts of one's life. There is no way life can be as rich and vibrant when you're caught in that web. The most important part, to me, is the last paragraph. I hope people take that message to heart. Just put aside the defensiveness and try real compassion and a willingness to face what the past has caused: and watch and feel what happens.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-02-04T16:04:51-06:00
ID
161931
Comment

OK, all, I just saw this tweet: Today in Women's History: Rose Parks. Why do so many people gloss over the fact that she *trained* to help start the bus boycott and to not get up that day!? That she attended the Highlander Center where many civil rights activists trained? This was not a "lonely" act. Why can't children be taught that there is amazing power when groups of ordinary people get together, train, practice and support each other? I hate this sanitized history. From that link: “I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.” Rosa Parks February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005 Most historians date the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States to December 1, 1955. That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This brave woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere. HERE is a write-up about Parks on the Highlander site. It includes this: Our society teaches history through stories of remarkable individuals, and while Rosa Parks was indeed remarkable, her story is also about collective action, willed risk, intentional plans and mass movement. Sanitized versions of this story refer to Mrs. Parks as simply being tired on December 1, 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white man. She was not simply tired that day but tired of racism and segregation, tired of constantly being treated as a second-class citizen. At the time of her arrest, Rosa Parks was a respected community leader already working to counter humiliating racist laws and traditions. She became secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter as early as 1943 and tried to register to vote three times before doing so for the first time in 1945. As a member of the NAACP, she worked on voter registration and youth programs, and in fact on that particular December 1st, she needed to get home to prepare for a youth workshop she was conducting that weekend. Rosa Park's continued legacy is the story of action taken in the face of great risk to effect change. "Standing up by sitting down" had huge implications for her own life and the lives of those around her. She was tremendously respected by others and was resolved to live in dignity. Her action was the match needed to light a fire prepared and ready to spark in Montgomery, Alabama and throughout the south.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-02-04T16:13:48-06:00
ID
161938
Comment

An apropos quote I just found in my teaching notes: "There is no tolerance without respect and no respect without knowledge. Any human being sufficiently curious and motivated can fully possess another culture, no matter how alien it may appear to be." ~ Henry Louis Gates

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-02-06T10:45:55-06:00
ID
161940
Comment

Good point, Renee Shakespeare. The Clarion Ledger is a "hot ass mess." Not my original thought, I got that from an inmate on A&E's Beyond Scared Straight. So much of their reporting is incomplete or inflammatory and lacks thoroughness. The article should have used the census information to address what Jackson can do to stop white and black flight.

Author
redlion
Date
2011-02-06T18:09:26-06:00

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